Health Equity

Health Equity Investments Likely To Rise In 2024, New Report Reveals

Dec 6, 2023

Health equity has steadily gained focus within the healthcare industry, from racial and ethnic health disparities to gender imbalances in healthcare costs. The business case, as well as the moral imperative, for reducing health inequities is increasingly clear.

A new survey conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions with nearly 200 C-suite executives and health equity leaders in the health and life sciences industries suggests that the focus on improving health equity isn’t going anywhere.

According to the 2024 Health Equity Outlook, approximately half of leaders surveyed expect to increase investments in health equity in 2024 and 80% said that health equity will be in their top-ten business goals for 2024.

The report defines health equity as “the fair and just opportunity for everyone to achieve their full potential in every aspect of their health and well-being regardless of race, gender, ability status, or Zip code.”

Jay Bhatt, DO, MPH, MPA, managing director of the Center for Health Solutions and Health Equity Institute at Deloitte, said he is encouraged by the growth in investments and attention to health equity within healthcare organizations.

Bhatt points to organizations that are having positive results by analyzing their data through a health equity lens and using insights about health disparities to improve services for specific populations. But he cautioned that health equity improvements require sustained and long-term effort, which may be at odds with near-term macroeconomic pressures many organizations are facing.

“If you don’t see short-term results, then you may move away from it,” Bhatt said. “But health equity is a long-term effort.”

The report identifies potential headwinds that organizations may face when it comes to sustaining their focus on health equity: limited resources, competing priorities, and margin pressures, to name a few.

Labor force constraints are also a looming worry; 40% of health equity leaders said that they expect staff recruitment, retention, and burnout to be a major challenge for their health equity initiatives. Bhatt cites a trust deficit between healthcare and life sciences organizations and traditionally marginalized communities and argues for making sure the workforce reflects the communities they serve.

External forces may help keep health equity a top priority in the face of those challenges. More than half (53%) of respondents expect regulatory pressures to drive the continued or increased focus on health equity in their companies.

Several state and federal policies are geared toward reducing racial and ethnic health disparities among Medicaid enrollees. At the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to begin requiring all late-stage clinical trials to include a plan for ensuring diversity in clinical trial participation.

Similarly, the Joint Commission, the nonprofit organization that accredits thousands of hospitals and healthcare providers across the U.S., expanded its race and ethnicity data collection requirements to apply to clinics and mental health providers as well as hospitals.

According to Deloitte’s report, 80% of health equity leaders reported that they currently have low or no decision-making involvement in their organization’s AI strategy. With AI’s rapid evolution, expanding applications, and increasing relevance to consumers, excluding health equity leaders could be especially problematic. Lack of focus on equity may increase the chances that AI tools exacerbate, rather than reduce, health disparities.

Bhatt acknowledged that many healthcare and life sciences organizations are just starting to figure out what they’re doing with AI but said they need to integrate health equity leaders into these types of technology decisions and approaches to help prevent bias from seeping in.

“The data is clear is that health equity is an economic imperative and that organizations that have leaned into addressing unmet need and integrating health equity across the enterprise have seen better and sustained outcomes,” he said.

Engaging Patients and Communities
Respondents reported that patient and community engagement will be a key part of their health equity strategies.

“There’s increasing realization that consumers are expecting and wanting more from the health system,” Bhatt said. “That’s also pushing healthcare and life sciences companies to think about how they engage consumers and patients in the development and the use of products, services, diagnostics, and therapeutics.”

Nearly half of respondents said they expect their organizations to increase the focus on patient engagement and 60% of health equity leaders said that increasing community engagement and collaboration is their top priority for the coming year.

“Trust is an important component of loyalty and also being able to help patients navigate through a complex system,” Bhatt said. “If you are vulnerable and you don’t trust your doctor or your care team, then you may go to the ER instead. In moments where we’re stressed, we’re challenged with accessibility and affordability, trust ends up being important for engagement and outcomes.”

Bhatt encourages consumers to recognize the role that they can play in addressing systemic and structural barriers that impact people’s health. Specifically, he says consumers should share the challenges that keep them from being healthy with their healthcare providers; by bringing voice to their own experiences, consumers can contribute to advancing health equity in their community.

By Deb Gordon, Forbes